Tip: Buying a laptop cooler? Make sure you get the proper type!

While some laptops are worse than others, anyone that uses a laptop knows they can heat up. One of the ways to fight overheating laptops is to use external laptop coolers.

Because of how easy they are to manufacture, laptop coolers have flooded the market. As with all other mass manufactured items, laptop coolers come in all shapes and sizes and forms and qualities. While you may think that brand-new laptop cooler you picked up from Best Buy is helping you deal with your heating problems, that cooler may actually be hurting your laptop.

^ Image credit.

When it comes to laptops, laptops can be divided into basic two groups:

  • Group one – Laptops that exhaust air out from the bottom.
  • Group two – Laptops that pull air in from the bottom.

Coinciding with these two basic categorizations of laptops, there are two basic types of laptop coolers:

  • Group A – Coolers that pull air away from the bottom of laptops.
  • Group B – Coolers that push air towards the bottom of  laptops.

Group one laptops should be used with group A coolers; group two laptops should be used with group B coolers. If you happen to use the wrong type of cooler for your laptop, the cooler is actually hurting your laptop instead of helping it because obviously it is interfering with the cooling mechanism built into the notebook.

So, how do you know what group your laptop belongs in? The easiest way to find out which group your laptop falls into is checking for exhaust vents on the sides (front, back, left and right) of the laptop. If you find an exhaust vent on a side of your laptop, chances are your laptop belongs in group two; you need group B coolers. If you do not find exhaust vents on a side of your laptop, chances are your laptop belongs in group one; you need group A coolers. Another way to test is to literally check the bottom of your laptop while it is running. Simply pick up the laptop while it is running and look for air vents. (Be sure to not have any discs inside disc drives when you check the bottom of your laptop because discs can get scratched if laptops are moved while they are inside.) Once you have identified the air vents (there is typically at least one big vent, with some laptops having other small ones, too), place your hand over it to feel if air is coming out. (Do not place your hand too close because you may burn yourself.) If air is coming out, your laptop is part of group one; if air isn’t coming out, your laptop is part of group two. If you just turned your laptop on from a sleeping state, you may have to use it a little bit to heat it up so the air vents are kicked into action; otherwise your laptop may be a group one but you may mistake it for a group two because the air vent is not being used at that moment. Once you have identified what type of laptop you have, you need to make sure you buy the proper type of cooler.

As already mentioned, group one’ers need group A coolers and group two’ers need group B coolers. However, how does one identify which group a cooler belongs in? Here are a few tips:

  • Read the product description of laptop coolers. Although not all the time, many times a laptop cooler will indirectly tell you if it pulls air away, or pushes air towards, laptops. Look for keywords such as “dissipate heat” or “pull heat away”. “Dissipate heat” and “pull heat away” are different ways of saying “pull air away”; coolers that say such things belong in group A.
  • Look at product pictures. Sometimes the the images of a product, either on the packaging or the manufacturer’s website, give you clues as to if air is being pulled away or pushed towards: Many laptop cooler pictures show air flows.
  • Although there is no concrete proof, in my experience most of the cheap $10-ish coolers tend to pull air way as opposed to push air towards. In other words, I have noticed the cheaper coolers tend to be group A’ers. This, of course, isn’t always true and is only an observation I have made based on my experience.
  • Again while I have no concrete proof of this, in my experience I have noticed the laptop coolers with fans of higher RPM tend to be group A’ers while the not-so-high RPM fan ones tend to be group B’ers. 1500 RPM is the magic number here, with 1500 RPM and lower typically being group B’ers and 1500 RPM and above being group A’ers. As with the previous point, this isn’t always true and is only an observation I have made based on my experience.

Ultimately, you may not be able to determine what type of cooler a particular laptop cooler is without purchasing it and finding out for yourself. (After purchasing a cooler it is very easy to find out what type of cooler it is; simply plug it in and feel if air is coming out of the top of the cooler or not. If air is coming out of the top, it is a group B. If air is not coming out of the top, it is a group A.) In this case you should make sure you are able to return the cooler if it turns out to be the wrong one or skip that cooler and move onto the next choice.

Good luck to everyone trying to keep their laptops cool. You are going to need it.

Feel free to share any laptop cooling or laptop cooler tips in the comments below.

Share this post

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

31 comments

  1. Rob (Down Under)

    There appears to be differing opinions on using the usb socket on the laptop to power the cooling fan
    I am often accused of ‘being an old woman’ on such matters.
    Why not ‘make an old man happy’ by purchasing one of these –
    5V 500MA USB Charger AC Power Supply Wall Adapter Adaptor AU Australia Plug MP3
    http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/280891718497?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649
    Costs $1.88
    I would buy a few, as they may wear out if your external cooling unit has a large drain.
    (You can search further in ebay to get a 1,000 MA )
    The other thing to watch out for is ‘hot swapping’ the various connections.
    I have fried the electronics in one of those, when I forgot to ‘be an old woman’

    My other suggestion is to NOT run Disk health programs,
    You do not want programs to add extra reading or writing to your hard drive.
    Get a program that can read the temperature.
    If all that program does is read the SMART data from the drive (not accessing/reading the drive), then I suppose it is ok to run that all the time.
    If I had a laptop, I would probably just have a shortcut to the program, and start/stop it when the mood hits me, or I smell toast.

    You should have signs around your house warning that laptop hard drives are an endangered species (to be protected and looked after).

    Rob/Roberta
    PS Those unlucky enough to not live in Australia, should search in ebay to get units that have your 240V plug.

  2. Shane

    EDIT FOR PREVIOUS POST:

    I’ve tried countless setups and tested them repeatedly and my best setup is (for my rear exhaust laptop) a blower pulling air away from the exhaust, which brings the hot air more quickly out of the computer (this slightly increases the rate at which air is taken in at the various bottom vents), and my SF-19 CM Storm cooling stand with the fans blowing air up at the computer from underneath laptop (through a very thin filter, since the actual worst thing about normal laptop coolers, in my opinion, is that they blow dust in your computer.) This creates an even air flow traveling upwards in to and out of my laptop.

    A word of warning though. Careful measures have to be taken when bringing a blower in to the equation. For one, they blow way to hard to ever aim at the internal components of a computer. That steady high pressure air would destroy a computer in no time. Even when using them to pull air, they need to be placed a few inches away from the exhaust, since the amount of air they draw would immediately create a huge pressure problem in the laptop, probably breaking the laptop faster than actually blowing at it. And FYI, I only use the blower when gaming since it is significantly louder and more power hungry than normal cooling methods.

  3. Shane

    First of all, some have commented that it is counterproductive to use a laptop cooler that will only eat up more power via usb. This statement is ludicrous. For one, the heat that could be generated from doing so would be isolated at the usb port, out of the way of the needing cooling. Second, say a laptop is hot, if a cooling stand could even lower internal temperatures by 5 critical degrees, it would most likely save several times that amount of power by slowing down the internal fans and making the internal components run more efficiently. If that 5 degrees ended up not being enough to change the behavior of the internal components (thus not saving power), than the laptop cooler would be serving a more important role by relieving stress on critical (and often irreplaceable (in a practical sense)) components

    That said, my laptop cooler/stand uses an external outlet and features a usb hub built into the cooler, which actually makes it so I can use my usb devices and not worry about losing even a bit of power because the hub powers the devices. The fans can be flipped and moved around the cooler so I can get it just right. “Coolermaster CM Storm SF-19 Cooler”

    And fyi, a downward blowing cooler will still probably help a tiny bit with rear/side exhaust laptops. Remember these are fans, they can only move air, they don’t have the ability to completely draw it in anyone direction.

    And I agree with one of the comments. A blower sucking (lightly) air away from the exhaust is the best form of cooling.

    I’ve tried countless setups and tested them repeatedly and my best setup is (for my rear exhaust laptop) a fan blowing away from the exhaust (slightly pulling the air out of the exhaust), and and my SF-19 CM Storm cooler with the fans blow up from underneath at the laptop (through a filter, since the actual worst thing about laptop coolers is that they blow dust in your computer.

  4. Shane

    @me:
    Many older laptops used to exhaust from the bottom, as well as some current ones. Most notably, many desktop replacement, media center, and gaming laptops still exhaust from the bottom sometimes. The reason is bottom exhaust can actually be much more efficient if the laptop is used only on hard surfaces. Larger fans, or blowers actually, can be implemented as well as a much much larger area that can be dedicated to exhaust. Side exhaust is usually restricted to a maximum area of about 1 inch by 4 inches, while bottom exhaust will often use a large portion of one side of the bottom of the notebook as honeycombed/grated passive exhaust with a dedicated area near the edge of case having a 3 x 3 to 5 x 5 forced exhaust. Often with more passive exhaust on the sides. These are usually laptops with 17 or 19 inch screens

    On the other hand, some laptops are just badly designed.

    The market is actually going back to bottom exhaust because the thinness wars are making side/rear exhaust practically impossible.

  5. me

    i don’t know what u are talking about i have never seen a laptop exhaust from the bottom at the fan they pull in and on top of the fan exhaust hot air from the laptop that is the way the fan is designed. i have 18yrs exp in computer/laptop repairs

  6. alex

    I got fed up with laptop coolers they were always too weak and didn’t cool effectively.

    Currently I have a laptop that sucks air in from the bottom, So I should have a cooler blowing air in to the bottom, right? well I don’t.

    I have a 120mm case fan turned upside down sucking air out the vent covering my heat sink. I mention this because if someone has the same type of laptop, they don’t fit any group. The fan placed the right way up only takes off 5C at max off. turned the other way it takes off 13C max

  7. Sunny

    A very timely article. Thanks Ashraf and thanks to all commenters for their lateral thinking and ace ideas.
    I’ll be nipping out tomorrow to get one of those bread-cooling racks. Temps are searing here at the moment and today the little netbook I was working in, also became scorchingly hot. Was having visions of it burning out.
    I had a chuckle over the hole cut in the table and the fan setup – a radical solution but I bet it’s effective.

    I also fully agree with Rob as regards passwords and encryption on laptops and being locked out. That was how I lost the use of a prized laptop. Because of keyboard issues (which I inadvertently caused) I was no longer able to enter my password to unlock the machine. It was a deep password with no known ways to break it. I vowed that would be the last time I password-protected a laptop. Any really personal data now gets securely stored in Trucrypt volumes. A nuisance to have to mount and dismount these but better in the long run than over-securing the whole laptop and locking yourself out of it permanently.

  8. Joe

    @stockel1949: Thanks stockel1949. That’s very interesting, I hadn’t linked that same problem you mention with my external USB HD drives. I realize now that only one partition of my external HD drives is visible/accessible when ADM is running, i.e. if I have a 400 Gb HD partictioned (110 and 265 respectively) ADM reports one 400Gb drive, gives temperature and health, but I can see and access only one partition. I have to use a partitioning program to assign a letter to the “invisible” partition to make it accessible. Cumbersome.
    Now, quitting ADM and reconnecting the external USB HD gives me access to both partitions. I never saw the link between the ADM and access to partitions on the external HD… Thanks for drawing my attention to this serious bug. Any solution offered by Acronis in the forum?
    In the meantime I keep using ADM and will close it when using an external USB HD. An alternative temperature monitoring programe (but doesn’t give health state of the HD) is HWMonitor – has both a basic free version (which I use) giving, HD, CPU, GPU and battery temperatures)

  9. stockel1949

    @Joe
    As soon as I read your information about ADM (Acronis Drive Monitor) I immediately downloaded and installed this software. I was delighted to see the temperature (too high) of the HD of my laptop. Then I turned ON my external HDs (USB connection) without results in ADM because they do not respond to the informations requests from ADM. Then I have the inability to read and/or access files from these HDs. The root directory was visible but the files were inaccessible. I thought I had made something wrong and therefore do a lot of investigation before I look to the Acronis forum dedicated to ADM. There I found that many users experience this same problem with the externals HDs with USB connection and the only solution was to definitely uninstall ADM and restart Windows.
    I will warn readers tempted by this software on the problems it can generate in some situations.

  10. relly

    well, your articles are really good,on my side ,i’ve tried several laptop coolers with bigger fans covering almost the whole bottom area, even branded ones ,but mostly made of plastics and it did’nt help too much in cooling , then i end up using the cheap ones made of aluminum and it’s really very effective, it really cools my laptops, even without using the fans, you know aluminum really absorbs the heat,and its the material use on all electronics gadget for cooling, i hope my opinion is right and i know i’m right…thanks alot…..

  11. mukhi

    well, gr. A coolers may not be as good as gr. B coolers, in general, irrespective of the type of the laptop you have. sucking air from a place to cool it is close to impossible unless the suction is vacuum-like. conversely, blowing air to cool it makes sense. you make your hot food cooler by blowing air on it, don’t you? have you ever tried to cool your food down by sucking air from it? LOL.

    a few good coolers according to reviews:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003ZMF27G/ref=cm_rdp_product

    http://www.amazon.com/Thermaltake-Mobile-Fan-External-Cooling/dp/B00080G0BK/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1294640447&sr=8-3

    http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Notebook-Cooling-Green-Accent/dp/B001U3ZH7W/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1294640447&sr=8-6

  12. BIll

    An easy way to see what type of fan you have is this:
    Cut a small square out of a piece of paper. Place it over the fan grate opening under your laptop. If the paper sticks to the grate, then it sucks air up into t6he laptop and out the sides of the laptop. If the paper does not stick to the grate, then your laptop exhausts air fromothe bottom.
    Do the same for your laptop cooler.

  13. Ed

    I LOVE laptops. It’s replaced my desktop which I haven’t turned on for over a year and I make my living with my laptop. Mine is also 3 years old now, runs like new it seems. It’s an off the shelf HP that I added 4 GB’s of RAM to, and beefed up the 2nd internal HD to 500 GB’s.

    I knew that heat and dust were a problem for laptops. I ended up using a simple steel bread cooling rack that is slightly larger than my 17″ laptop. This allows air to easily flow underneath, it pulls heat from the base and spreads it along the rack and it’s cheap, maybe $5, but probably $2-3, as I just pulled it out of my kitchen as it wasn’t being used and I bought it so long ago.

    Add to that, that I regularily vacuum out my keyboard and vents and have lately been doing so with a 5 hp shop vac, which pulled out more cat hair than my robust carpet vac.

    I also do this for client computers and it is scary what is pulled out of theirs. I think that one would have to vacuum the vents even with a commercial laptop cooler. Dust will clog the vents eventually.

  14. Jeffinprov

    Who knew. Excellent, EXTREMELY informative article! I am not one who has great affinity for laptops, but am reasonably satisfied with the one I have, and would like it to keep working for as long as possible.
    Thank you, Ashraf!

  15. Soulflare3

    Hey Ashraf, you made a slight mistake in your article. Torwards the middle/end you said “As already mentioned, group one’ers need group B coolers and group two’ers need group A coolers. However, how does one identify which group a cooler belongs in? Here are a few tips:”

    It should be “group one’ers need group A collers and group two’ers need group B coolers.”

    -Thought it was kina funny actually

  16. etim

    I’ll have to reread this article in about 6 months to really appreciate it.
    As it is right now, I’m relaxing on the couch, under a blanket, watching it snow again, and enjoying the toasty heat from my laptop.
    Better than a cat–it doesn’t shed, and it only gets up when I want it to.
    Plus, the power supply makes for a dandy toe warmer! Aaaahhhhh! Bliss!

  17. mvario

    A third option… depending on the cooler and how handy one is with a screwdriver sometimes the fans can be turned about with little fuss. I was able to do this one time with a cooler I purchased over the Internet that had an incorrect airflow.

  18. Joe

    I bought two nearly similar HP laptops (Pavillon DV 2500 – current – and DV2040 – I think).
    The first one failed (motherboard) just a week after the 3-year guarantee expired… and I started worrying about the second one which I had been using for 18 months. I noticed that both were running very hot, especially when on my lap.
    That’s when I read an article on a free Acronis program called Acronis Drive Monitor (ADM, from here).
    After installation ADM reported my Samsung HD 400Mb running at 65 degrees C (ADM default maximum temperature is 42 degrees C) and a “Disk Health of 15%” with a message indicating that” a Disk Health under 70% maybe an indicator on imminent drive failure” and recommended replacing the HD, which I did after mirroring the old one.
    I took the following measures after that:
    I bought a Belkin laptop cooler that pulls air in from the bottom
    I unscrewed and removed the HD plastic cover (with small vents), removed the HD caddy aluminium foil that covered the HD.
    Now (and for the past 7 months: ADM reports my HD running at between 30 and 41 degrees C, with a disk health of 100%. Nothing’s certain with laptops, but I feel more secure now, possibly wrongly.

    ADM can be downloaded from: http://www.acronis.com/enterprise/download/drive-monitor/

    Considering getting another program with more than just temperature and disk health monitoring.
    Any advice welcome Ashraf…

    Hope this helps.
    Joe

  19. gallantvoyager

    Pardon….

    “Group one laptops should be used with group A coolers; group two laptops should be used with group B coolers.”

    “As already mentioned, group one’ers need group B coolers and group two’ers need group A coolers.”

    Could you clarify which it actually is please?

  20. Rob (Down Under)

    Heat is probably the main reason I dislike laptops, having gone through a disintegrating drive, which decided to activate some mfrs password, that prevented me getting in, in time, to recover data.
    My friend offered me a laptop, and I declined. I guess my hatred has grown.
    Rob
    PS A lot of people complain that they did not get a CD/DVD for the OS.
    They should insist that they get one next time.
    I believe that they either have to supply one, or a desktop shortcut that creates one for you.
    PPS All of you that go overboard with passwords and encryption, take heed. If you have a laptop, then the drive will surely fail. and you will lament the presence of passwords and encryption.